Twenty four-year-old Imran Yousuf barely escaped crossing paths with gunman Omar Mateen as the bouncer made his rounds for last call at Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning.
However, when he recognized the sound of a military-style AR-15 assault rifle, the war veteran heard Mateen loud and clear. Yousef had served as a U.S. Marine overseas in Afghanistan, but this past weekend, he found himself in an all too familiar combat zone in Orlando, Florida.
It was that precise experience and ability to react quickly in crisis that saved dozens of lives that night.
“The initial one was three or four [shots]. That was a shock,” said Yousef in an interview with CBS News. “Three or four shots go off and you could tell it was a high caliber. Everyone froze. I’m here in the back and I saw people start pouring into the back hallway, and they just sardine pack everyone.”
The bouncer knew there was only one route to safety beyond the terrified pack of hostages, and he had to act fast.
“I’m just screaming ‘Open the door! Open the door!’ And no one is moving because they are scared,” he explained. “There was only one choice. Either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take either the chance and get shot and save everyone else, and I jumped over, opened that latch and we got everyone that we can out of there.”
Just how many people made it through that door?
“Probably over 60, 70,” he said. “As soon as people found that door was open they kept pouring out.”
“I wish I could have saved more to be honest,” Yousef admitted as he choked back tears.
“There are a lot of people that are dead…there are a lot of people that are dead.”
Yousef was still not able to fully process all the lives that were lost before the interview, but as he began to speak about it out loud, he became overwhelmed with grief and emotion.
Amidst the horror unleashed in the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history, we are thankful for men like Yousef who put their lives on the line to save strangers from harm’s way.
This combat vet is a true hero, through and through. Watch his emotional interview below.